WASHINGTON (AP) - Amid conflicting reports on what happened in the Washington Wizards locker room, the matter clearly goes beyond the team's original statement about Gilbert Arenas storing unloaded guns in his locker.
What began with the NBA looking into a possible violation of its own rules has turned into an investigation involving the U.S. Attorney's Office and District of Columbia police. The implications are serious, with the legal system, the league and the Wizards in line to take possible action if the allegations prove true.
"The situation involving an incident in the locker room is troubling to our family, our organization and our fans," the former of late Wizards owner Abe Pollin said in a statement released Saturday night. "We know our fans are frustrated and angry. The fact that guns were brought to the Verizon Center is dangerous and disappointing and showed extremely poor judgment."
Pollin died Nov. 24, and his family is running the team during the transition to a new ownership group. Pollin, who changed the team's name from Bullets in the 1990s because of the violent connotation, had little tolerance for player misbehavior.
"Guns have absolutely no place in a workplace environment and we will take further steps to ensure this never happens again," the statement said. "While the police investigation proceeds, we are limited in what we can say, but we want our fans to know that we will not rest until this situation is resolved and has come to a satisfactory conclusion."
The Wizards said on Christmas Eve that Arenas stored unloaded firearms in a locked container in his locker, with no ammunition. Arenas said he wanted them out of the house after the birth of his latest child.
Two officials within the league who have been briefed on the investigation gave further details to The Associated Press on Saturday. Both said the matter involves a dispute over card-playing gambling debts and a heated discussion between Arenas and another player. One of the officials added the dispute was between Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton and began during a card game on the team's flight home from a West Coast road trip on Dec. 19.
The official said Crittenton and Arenas continued their dispute in the locker room - where Arenas kept his guns - when the team reconvened to practice on Dec. 21. Neither official was told of Arenas and Crittenton actually drawing guns on each other - as the New York Post has reported.
The officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Arenas strolled through the locker room three times while the media was present before Saturday night's home game against the San Antonio Spurs. Each time he wore enormous headphones and walked with stopping, his only comments referencing the larger-than-usual contingent of reporters.
"Oooh - a lot of you out here today," he said.
The Wizards were in damage control mode, keeping the locker room open for 30 minutes instead of the league-mandated 45. Meanwhile, on the court, coach Flip Saunders talked about distractions and the effects they can have on a team.
"Any time you have anything off the floor and your players can't have total focus, then it's always going to have some," Saunders said. "You always want to have players be able to worry about what you have at hand, and that's to go out and prepare and play against San Antonio."
Arenas started the game despite a sore left knee. His first shot was an air ball, and he was 3 for 10 from the field with only nine points at halftime.
The nation's capital has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation, and the NBA's collective bargaining agreement prohibits players from possessing firearms at league facilities or when traveling on any league business. Commissioner David Stern has said players should leave their guns at home and could levy substantial fines or suspensions, pending the outcome of the investigation.
Arenas has been suspended once before because of a gun-related matter. He sat out Washington's season opener in 2004 because he failed to maintain proper registration of a handgun while living in California in 2003 and playing for the Golden State Warriors.
Depending on the severity of the findings, the Wizards could invoke the morals clause found in standard NBA player contracts and attempt to void the remainder of the six-year, $111 million deal Arenas signed in the summer of 2008.
Such an option might be tempting because the Wizards have yet to get much of a return on the investment. Arenas missed all but two games last season as he recuperated from knee operations, and has struggled to adjust to Saunders' offense this season.
Despite a healthy core of players and a high-priced roster, the Wizards were 10-20 entering Saturday night's game.
This year, Saunders made Arenas a team captain, but the point guard has remained as flippant and unpredictable as ever. He made light of his latest plight on Twitter, posting on Friday that he was being portrayed as "the new John Wayne" and that he's a "goof ball" who doesn't do "serious things." His Twitter account was silent on Saturday.
Regardless of the outcome, the issue of NBA players and their guns will come under more scrutiny.
"I know what it's done to me, the little incident I had. So it can really make people think a whole different way about you and forget about all the good things you've done," said Heat player Stephen Jackson, who served a seven-game suspension in 2007 after pleading guilty to a felony charge of criminal recklessness for firing a gun into the air at an Indianapolis strip club.
"Guys have to protect themselves," Jackson added. "I just don't think it made any sense to have them in the locker room with your own teammate."
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